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Considering buying a house in France - any advice?

(55 Posts)
BIWI Sun 20-Nov-16 15:39:30

I will be inheriting money from my dad, who died at the end of September.

I've always wanted to own a place in France, and now it looks like I'll be able to do that. Especially as I've discovered how cheap some property is.

We want a place somewhere close to Eurotunnel, so that we can visit regularly (we're in SW London so not to far to drive at this end), and it's not somewhere we'd rent out.

It's also a possibility that we might buy it with some very good friends of ours (obviously would go through all legal stuff with them too, no matter how good friends we are).

I'm aware that buying property is a different process in France, but don't yet know anything about it - any advice, or words of wisdom - even if it's to tell me what not to do!?

And also, given the whole Brexit fiasco, I'm wondering if it's really a good idea at the moment?

magimedi Sun 20-Nov-16 15:51:48

I spend quite a lot of time in France as DC (& PFGC) live there.

Be prepared for a lot of bureaucracy if you are buying, especially if you buy with another couple.

Northern France is cheap for a reason (am assuming from your post that that is where you're looking at) . The climate is not good, can be much colder & wetter there than here and it is quite economically depressed.

If you decide you don't want to keep the house it may be hard to sell. The French do not move as often as we tend to & many French live in rental as there is far more protection for tenants in France.

Having had the shock of Brexit & Trump, Gawd knows what will happen in the French elections next year - Marine Le Pen is looking strong & given that & the total uncertainty of what is going to happen with Brexit I wouldn't be investing in property in France atm.

Another caveat would be what is going to happen re helath care if we Brexit. EHIC cards won't be valid & I wonder how much insurance will cost to cover you for multiple stays in France?

Sorry to sound so negative, I love France but I'd be very wary of buying there atm.

Costacoffeeplease Sun 20-Nov-16 16:04:44

I wouldn't do it, I'm afraid, especially with another couple

Brexit, trump, le pen, current exchange rates, French bureaucracy, unlikely to be much of a capital gain, upkeep costs, northern French climate - just no

topcat2014 Sun 20-Nov-16 16:07:16

I have friends that did this (think chateau type thing) - but he is a builder, and they are semi retired. Huge amount of work (no plumbing etc) - they love living there though.

Other friends have moved back to the UK as the economy is Fxxd up and they are worried about kids future.s

clearsommespace Sun 20-Nov-16 16:19:41

I live in northern France.
If you decide to buy, look at notaires as well as estate agents. The fees will be lower.
The weather is similar in Northern France to southern UK ( we have the same weather as family in the UK but sometimes a day later) but the culture is very different.
The beaches are lovely when the weather is good. Great beer and seafood.
Why would you like a house here?

Enidblyton1 Sun 20-Nov-16 16:26:59

Oh dear, I really wouldn't.

I love France and my family have a second home there. But agree there is a lot of red tape and too much uncertainty following Brexit/ French economy is in a bad way. You may find it difficult to sell.

I also don't see any benefit of buying anywhere near the eurotunnel. The only place I'd consider buying right now would be in an up and coming ski resort in the Alps (only if you like summer/winter mountain activities!)

Sorry to be negative, but If you want to holiday in France I think you'd be better to spend you money on some great holidays rather than sinking it into a French property.

BIWI Sun 20-Nov-16 16:40:01

I know France reasonably well, and I know what the climate will be like there! I'm not expecting balmy summer weather all the time - we'll be just as happy going over in autumn or winter, as long as we've got somewhere with decent heating.

We're not talking about a chateau, more something that's small and cottagey. 2 bedrooms, possibly 3. I've seen lots of places that will require serious DIY skills (or access to builders/lots of money for builders!) and I'm not interested in that - don't mind somewhere where we have to re-decorate, but that's about it - but it seems like there are plenty of those available for well under €70K.

Not interested in it as an investment, so don't have any qualms about re-selling. And I want it to be near the tunnel so that it's easy for us to go over when we fancy it rather than having to consider a long drive or paying for flights. To be honest, it would be quicker to get there than it is to get to my family up in the North - so it does make weekend trips feasible. It wouldn't be somewhere we'd be tied to having holidays in.

We may or may not buy with our friends - obviously I know that if we do it adds another layer of bureaucracy to the whole thing.

clearsomme partly because it's something I've always wanted to do, partly because I love France and partly because I love the countryside in what is, I think, a part of the country that many people ignore on their rush down to the Dordogne!

The whole Brexit thing is much more concerning, though - along with the whole move to the far right in French politics. And I hadn't thought about the EHIC/health care thing. That's a really good point. However, we do have an annual travel insurance policy and trips abroad aren't limited, so that's one thing.

magimedi Sun 20-Nov-16 16:59:48

Be careful & check your annual travel insurance policy - they can have some nasty somewhat hidden clauses regarding second homes.

I honestly think I'd wait for a year or so to see how Brexit & French politics are going.

BIWI Sun 20-Nov-16 17:01:43

That's a good suggestion, magimedi. Thanks.

To be honest, there's no rush to buy anyway. I want to make sure we research the area properly, which will mean several visits, I think. And I'm totally prepared to wait a while to find the right kind of property - I imagine that we'll probably identify a town/village/place that we want to buy in first, and then will have to wait for a property to come on the market.

Bobochic Sun 20-Nov-16 21:39:27

I wouldn't buy with another couple - cannot think of any reason to do that.

The nicer bits of Northern France are largely Parisian second home territory. Anything near the sea can be expensive.

Something costing €70k won't have much in the way of a vibrant local economy with decent food markets and entertainment.

BIWI Sun 20-Nov-16 22:05:27

Well, we might have very good reasons to buy with another couple, although I quite understand that it brings with it another layer of complexity.

We're not necessarily interested in buying in a Parisian annexe. Nor entertainment necessarily - we get lots of that in London! And there are plenty, indeed a gazillion, of places that aren't expensive.

Costacoffeeplease Sun 20-Nov-16 22:11:36

It's really not a good idea to buy with another couple. I live in the Algarve and manage holiday properties for British owners so know a bit about it.

clearsommespace Mon 21-Nov-16 04:28:26

it is a lovely area. Luckily a lot of people rush through heading for sun and vineyards!

Through my work, I know lots of couples who share properties in this way in France. Notaires can advise you on how best to protect the different parties. Inheritance law is very different here but I think that side of things would be fine if you are aware and have documents drawn up accordingly.
The cheaper properties are in the quieter villages where there are no jobs or particular attractions but I know if I was still living in London, that's the kind of place I'd want. However as a PP said, those properties are also harder to sell on. I wouldn't sink all of my savings into such a project but if you aren't seeing it as a profit making investment and if you already have a rainy day fund, I would say 'why not' if it weren't for Brexit. However if you're going to take a year to figure out where you'd like to buy, and then some time to find the right property, hopefully by then we will all have a clearer idea about Brexit. How would you feel if you invested several weekends in searching and then decided it wouldn't be prudent? Would that be a waste of time or would it be something you'd enjoy doing even if you end up giving up on your dream?
How's your French? I wouldn't buy if I couldn't make sense of the basic letters from the authorities. It would work out very expensive to have everything translated.
For the running costs, as well as the property maintenance, you need to take into account the owners tax (fonciere), occupants tax (habitation) , water, waste disposal, and obviously energy bills. If you get a place with a big garden, could you afford to employ someone to mow so you don't have to do that every weekend you visit?
We have good grass growing weather!

BIWI Mon 21-Nov-16 07:44:45

Thanks, clearsomme - that's very helpful.

My French is OK, although very rusty, so that's a very good point about understanding the legal stuff. I have a friend who bought a property about 5 years ago, and I know that his French is also reasonable, so hopefully that would help. I also have a friend who lives near me who is a (British) lawyer, and who has good French (I think), so I'm hoping that they can also be a useful source of help and advice.

To be clear - I'm talking about spending a sum which will be around 10% of the money I stand to inherit. So I'm not considering sinking all of it into a pipe dream!

Costa - I'm sure you have some great stories to tell! What would you say is the most common issue, or problem that they fail to take into account?

Interestingly, there are two couples who are keen on doing this with me. But although they're both good friends, one couple I definitely won't do this with - the other couple I definitely would. But even though I'm definite about (at least considering) this, I'd still make sure that we had legal protection. And we'd also have to consider how we split running costs, if we or they were to use the property more. Having bought my first flat with a friend, I'm very aware of the importance and need for this kind of protection.

We (DH and I) will definitely be visiting for some research. Those are the kind of trips we love!

Costacoffeeplease Mon 21-Nov-16 07:51:39

Oh so many!

The main ones are, as you said, working out how much you will each use the property and the relevant split for running costs. Also, if one of you wants to buy a new sofa/washing machine eg and the other doesn't, or who gets the final say on colour/fabric choice. Do you allow each other's friends and family to use the property?

Inheritance is a huge issue if you have children (as it is in Portugal) so if one of you dies the remaining owners could end up owning with the deceased's children, who may want to sell their share, or if not, you're bringing in several other owners to be considered

It's very easy for little resentments to build up into huge ones, and I'd say, a potential nightmare

Bobochic Mon 21-Nov-16 07:58:22

You won't necessarily find a notaire who agrees to joint ownership of such a low value property.

LillianGish Mon 21-Nov-16 08:13:45

I would rent somewhere to start with - so you really know whether you like the area you are buying in. You may strike gold straightaway or you may rent in another area and then another - in fact it might be quite appealing to go somewhere slightly different each time in which case you might wonder if it is even worth buying, just use all the money you'd be spending on tax fonciere, tax d'habitation and all the various charges and running expenses to stay wherever the fancy takes you each time. While you are there you can keep looking and if you really fall in love with a town and a house then go for it. That way you'll also get a feeling then for how frequently you might realistically use it. I live in France and love it here, but there are many, many places I wouldn't want to live or even go on holiday more than once no matter how cheap or easily accessible they are.

lapetitesiren Mon 21-Nov-16 08:19:31

Near the Eurotunnel there are some lovely towns and villages and many Belgians have holiday homes there.there's plenty to do and the lovely sandy beaches don't get so overcrowded as other parts of France. The northern French are generally friendly and most mairies have social events throughout the year that would enable you to integrate and get to know people( if that's what you want to do). If you don't mind not having a sea view from the property your money will go a long way.The great advantage is the ease of travel to this area so you could really get good use out of your property. It's a lovely idea op except personally I wouldn't go into it with others- far too much scope for long-term problems as peoples life projects change.

lapetitesiren Mon 21-Nov-16 08:21:57

That should have said there is plenty to do!

soupplate Mon 21-Nov-16 08:24:47

I read a blog called 'Frugal Queen'. Jane and her husband bought a house in Brittany last year and have been doing it up slowly. It's quite an interesting read - they were also looking for somewhere quiet and untouristy.

We love Picardy and Normandy - not the most popular parts of France and the weather can certainly be pretty bad in the winter, but we usually go in October and it is invariably warmish and sunny.

The French are not as property conscious (I realise this is a huge generalisation), so properties are sometimes not as well maintained as you would expect, so do get a proper in depth survey. There also appear to be quite a lot of taxes and charges associated with owning property in France.

I would love to have a bolt-hole in the Normandy countryside.

DameDiazepamTheDramaQueen Mon 21-Nov-16 08:40:00

We have friends who are doing the same atm- the red tape is dreadful!

scaredofthecity Mon 21-Nov-16 08:43:25

My parents have had one for the last 10 years, it's a 2 up 2 down in a beautiful village. No they have not made a bean on it and it will probably be difficult to sell if they wanted to but that is not why they bought it.
We have had many holidays there and my parents go every 6 weeks ish. They love it and it is definitely a second home to them.
It is near mortain, which is beautiful and has so much history. I really enjoy going there it is so peaceful, the food is good and there are plenty of places to visit and great places to walk as well.
If you were to get somewhere I'd advise checking out the french laws as there are some funny ones; such as keeping grass mown and paying tax based on rooms used (and apparently everyone lies on this!). Also as stated their inheritance law is very different to ours.
I know for my parents it was the best decision they have made and it brings them endless happiness and joy to know they have somewhere to escape to.
It is however not the place if you want to invest and see a return!

BIWI Mon 21-Nov-16 13:18:56

Thanks for all the replies - really helpful (and interesting!)

I'm definitely not doing this as an investment. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and something I've always wanted to do.

And I hear you loud and clear about buying with friends grin

clearsommespace Mon 21-Nov-16 16:43:31

Speaking of events, I used to live in a village within 30min of the tunnel and the events organised by the Mairie and school in our village were all very different from the sort of events you get in the UK. Food at the summer event was a sit down dinner in a field ather than a burger van!
However there are also a lot of British expats in that area who organise events too. e.g There is a Christmas panto in Hesdin this year

frenchfancy Wed 23-Nov-16 11:03:40

In terms of buying with friends you may want to look into something called an SCI. It is a tax regime of sorts that allows property to be jointly owned. Only any good if you are not intending to rent out.

In terms of prices I would be very suspicious of anything under 100k€ claiming to need no major work. There is likely to be something wrong with it. Busy road or similar.

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